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Guest conductor adds spark to 'Russian Spectacular' March 27, 2017

by Peter Rubardt, Music Director

It’s time for the PSO’s Russian Spectacular concert, a performance that we all look forward to with great anticipation. With the Russian composers, we can be pretty sure what we’re going to get: powerful emotions, plenty of drama, and buckets of instrumental virtuosity. It’s always a winning combination, but this year will be special for me: I’ll be sitting in the audience with my lovely wife, watching guest conductor Bill Eddins put the PSO through its paces. Bringing a fresh face into the mix for the weekend has prompted me to muse on how orchestras and conductors work together, and what lies behind that elusive and ever-shifting relationship.

I’m often asked why an orchestra even needs a conductor. After all, the notes are on the page, the players could probably play together well enough by themselves, and most of the time it seems they’re not even watching the guy on the podium. Does the conductor even matter?

In a word: yes. The conductor matters a lot, and I’m not saying that just because I have a vested interest. When a conductor and an orchestra prepare a concert together, they need to solve countless issues. Some of these are pretty straightforward: deciding what music to play, what editions to use, rehearsal schedules, guest artists, etc. And a lot of things can be worked out in advance, like how the string players are going to move their bows, or exactly which instruments are going to be used on which passages. But no amount of advance preparation can truly alleviate the trepidation (and yes, also the excitement) of the first downbeat of the first rehearsal. There are myriad unknowns (both known and unknown), and even in the best of circumstances, the character of the performance doesn’t become clear until well into the process.

Of course the unknowns are far fewer when you have a conductor and orchestra that work together often. I’ve been conducting the PSO for twenty years, and over that time we’ve learned how to play to each other’s strengths and accommodate each other’s weaknesses. My gestures are familiar to them and their playing is familiar to me; like long-time couples we can, musically speaking, finish each other’s sentences.

While such familiarity is comforting, it’s also good to mix it up now and then, hence the excitement about Bill Eddins’ visit to Pensacola. Bill has had a long career both as a concert pianist and as a conductor of major orchestras around the world (including a stint as Resident Conductor of the renown Chicago Symphony). He brings a lot to the table: fresh musical ideas, vast experience, a different presence on stage. And when the conductor is somebody of Bill’s stature, different is good.

The first time a conductor and an orchestra sit down together, it’s much like a first date. Hopes and expectations are high, as are curiosity and occasionally anxiety. The first critical moment is the first downbeat. While many of a conductor’s basic gestures are standardized, the way those gestures fit to each conductor can be vastly different. The orchestra must instantly read the gestures, and the conductor must instantly adjust to how the orchestra is reading the gestures. A tremendous amount happens in the first few minutes of playing, much of it subliminal and intuitive. The chemistry can happen that fast.

cond critical moment is when the conductor stops the music for the first time and starts to rehearse. Is he going to focus on details or paint with a broad brush? Be friendly or stern? Talk loudly or softly? Fix many things at once or just one at a time? Does he know what he wants, and how to get it? Does he let the orchestra play its way, or does he set out to change fundamental things? Of course none of these questions have black and white answers, and all of this uncertainty plays out against the backdrop of limited rehearsal time and a ticking clock, with a major concert looming a day or two away.

It will be a healthy adventure for the PSO, and a thrilling performance for the rest of us. I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

This article was originally published in the Pensacola News Journal, Sunday, March 26, 2017. 

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20 years at the baton: Rubardt leads the Pensacola Symphony October 1, 2016

Dr. Peter Rubardt is celebrating his 20th season as music director of the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra as the organization launches its 2016-17 season Saturday at the Saenger Theatre with a program featuring music of Dvořák, Sibelius, Ravel and Debussy. Rubardt, who was born in Berkeley, California, has been at the helm during the period of continuous growth experienced by the Symphony over the past two decades. He talked about what prompted him to pursue the position back in 1996. “At that stage of my career, like most people in this profession who are the age I was 20 years ago, I just needed a job,” he said. “Jobs are exceedingly hard to come by. In any given year, there might be a half-dozen jobs of this kind available in the country and, fortunately, I’m not looking for a job anymore, which is a really nice feeling. Part of it is as simple as that. I had finished four years as resident conductor of the New Jersey Symphony and four years as associate conductor of the Syracuse Symphony, which were both extremely valuable positions. I’m very grateful for everything I learned there from the players, audiences and staffs of those orchestras. Those were formative jobs for me, but you spend eight years being the No. 2 conductor, and suddenly, it’s like, if you don’t move right about that time, your career may end. There’s very little mobility in the field and the windows for moving are small.” -- Read more on PNJ.com

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Maestro Peter Rubardt Celebrates 20 Years With Pensacola Symphony Orchestra September 27, 2016

The Pensacola Symphony Orchestra will kick off the 2016-17 season with their Opening Night performance on this Saturday, October 1 at the Saenger Theatre. This will be the orchestra’s 20th season under the direction of Music Director Peter Rubardt. Prior to his appointment in Pensacola, Rubardt served four seasons as Associate Conductor of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra and three seasons as Resident Conductor of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. When he got the job and arrived in Pensacola in 1996, he says he and his wife Hedi (Dr. Hedi Salanki-Rubardt), Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of West Florida and Yamaha Artist, had no idea that they would still be here 20 years later.-- Read more on WUWF.org

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Rubardt: Symphony's opening night will be festive September 24, 2016

There’s a passage deep in the third movement of Debussy’s masterful musical sketch "Iberia" that never fails to make me laugh out loud. It is a perfect example of what I love about the piece, what I love about the composer, and even — grandiose as this sounds — what I love about music. More about that passage later. It is just one of the countless brilliant musical moments that we’ll be celebrating when the Pensacola Symphony opens it’s 91st season on Oct. 1 at the Saenger Theatre.-- Read more on PNJ.com

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A Spectacular Evening March 31, 2016

A night with Pensacola Symphony Orchestra (PSO) is always a special occasion, but the upcoming Russian Spectacular performance is one not to miss, said Abigail Walker, a musician with PSO. “The music is rich and romantic,” said the bassoonist, who has been with PSO since 2007.

“Composers through the generations have been through such major political turmoil … some were even sent into exile for their music. I’m so fascinated by those who were writing it.”

Russian composers are a staple in the classical music world. PSO will be showcasing another Russian name, Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 10” later this month for its next performance.

Shostakovich exemplifies Walker’s point. The composer had a difficult relationship with the government. Much of his work was written under government-imposed requirements of Soviet art. It wasn’t until Joseph Stalin’s death that he could even publish some of the works he had kept secret.

More on INWeekly.com

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Rubardt: Tchaikovsky anchors Symphony's 'Spectacular' March 26, 2016

My first conducting teacher had strong ideas about repertoire. He was passionate about Debussy and Mahler, brilliant with works of the “Second Viennese School” (Schoenberg, Berg, Webern), and relished premiering complex new scores by local composers. Beethoven, Berlioz and Brahms were greatly revered. And I can’t remember him doing a single piece of Russian music. I never asked him why, but I doubt there was any dogmatic principal behind that; my guess is that the Russians just didn’t resonate with him.  More on PNJ.com

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Rubardt: Symphony schedules musical tour of Europe February 27, 2016

We all have a bit of wanderlust, a desire to explore the world and get fresh perspectives from other cultures. But just in case you don’t have a multi-national journey planned in the near future, there is another great way to expand your horizons. On March 5, the Pensacola Symphony will take a trip through Europe, hosted by four of our favorite composers. Along the way we’ll hear the folk melodies, see the landscapes, watch the dances and sample the legends that shaped these four distinct cultures. More on PNJ.com

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Digital Downtime with Christian Garman: Ashley Brown November 24, 2015

Christian Garman chats with Ashley Brown on his weekly podcast. Listen to it here!

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Ashley Brown comes 'Home for the Holidays' on Dec. 4. November 22, 2015

Ashley Brown speaks with Andrew Metzger of the Pensacola News Journal about her upcoming performance with the PSO. "I’ve gone away and done a lot of things, but I’ve never forgotten from where I came. I am so proud of my hometown. It is a great town that has put a lot of artists out into the world, and a lot of successful people in many other areas. I love coming back to Pensacola and collaborating with wonderful organizations I was involved with my whole childhood. I’m so excited to be coming home.” - more on PNJ.com

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Rubardt: Symphony's Brahms program will 'fill the soul' October 31, 2015

There is a famous quote from Felix Mendelssohn, a German composer from the mid 19th century: "People often complain that music is too ambiguous, that what they should think when they hear it is so unclear, whereas everyone understands words. With me, it is exactly the opposite…(Words) seem to me so ambiguous, so vague, so easily misunderstood in comparison to genuine music, which fills the soul with a thousand things better than words. The thoughts which are expressed to me by music that I love are not too indefinite to be put into words, but on the contrary, too definite" -- Read more on PNJ.com

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